IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH MADE A LASTING IMPACT ON YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY?
The night of March 18-19 the Franklin was a part of Task Force 58 and was about 50 miles off the coast of Japan. The purpose of the Task Force was to provide a screen to prevent supplies and reinforcements from moving from the Japanese mainland to Okinawa, which was
scheduled to be invaded on April 1. We went to General Quarters three or four times that night and after the last one, I went to the Marine compartment, stripped down to my skivvies and crapped out on my bunk. About 0630, I woke up with a start, looked around and saw to my horror that I was the only guy in the compartment. I realized I'd obviously slept through another GQ, so I jumped up and started putting on my dungarees.
I'd gotten my trousers on and was putting on my jacket when I heard the rest of the guys coming back to the compartment. The GQ I assumed, had been secured, and I decided that I would act like I was undressing instead of dressing. When one of the Corporals came in and saw me, he said, "What are you doing here, DuBose? You've got the 4 to 8 watch. You'd better get back to your gun mount."
I went up to 40mm quad-mount #12 but was told by a repairman that the watch had been moved back to mount #14 because #12 was malfunctioning. I went onto mount #14 and Sgt. Wooten, my gun captain, told me to put on a life jacket. I didn't want to do that because it was such a hassle trying all the little ribbons that kept the jacket closed, so I argued that I'd be going to show in just a few minutes and didn't want to put one on. He told me if I didn't put on my life jacket, he'd put me on report for not showing up at the last GQ, so I very reluctantly put on my jacket. I didn't tie the ribbons, though, just fastened the belt around my waist.
I sat down on the deck and leaned back against the forward mount bulkhead and about 10 minutes later the guy who always relieved me for chow came onto the mount and said, "Relieving a Second Loader." I stood up, since he had always been the one to relieve me before, but another guy got up and said, "Second Loader relieved" and took off to get in the chow line on the hangar deck. I complained bitterly to Sgt. Wooten that the guy always relieved me, but he said, "He relieved a position, not a man. Sit back down, DuBose."
I sat back down and a couple of minutes later there was a flash and explosion from up forward. I thought it was a 5-inch gun firing and I scrambled to my feet and looked out trying to see the shell burst in the hope that it would give me an idea of where the "Bogey" was that it was firing at. Rather than seeing a shell burst, however, I saw a shower of debris and a lot of smoke coming across us. We'd been hit. A Jap Betty dive bomber had come out of the clouds and found itself flying right down our flight deck. He released two 500-lb. bombs, one hit just aft of the forward elevator. It's explosion annihilating mount #12 and the second penetrating to the hangar deck and exploding there (and killing everyone on that deck, including the ones who were in the chow line). That bomb's explosion also penetrated the hangar deck, killing all but three guys in the Marine compartment, a deck below.
There was so much burning junk coming down on us from exploding planes that Sgt. Wooten ordered us to abandon the mount. Everyone made a mad dash to go aft, away from the fires. I started to join the rush, but Sgt. Wooten was in my way, and he was tangled up in his telephone cable, which was plugged into the mount. He was blocking my means of egress, so I told him to take a step toward me. When he did, I took the cable in both hands and snapped it in two. (I think there was quite a bit of adrenalin flowing in me right about then!)
When I learned that I would get my Purple Heart 50 years after that action, I called a guy named Newland who had been a lieutenant in the Marine Detachment and asked him if he would present the medal to me at the 50th-anniversary reunion of Franklin survivors in Charleston, SC the next month. He told me that, due to ill health, he would not be going to the reunion, so he couldn't do it. I said that I doubted that he remembered me, anyhow, and he said, "Oh, yes, I remember you! You're the guy who saved Sgt. Wooten's ass" I asked him what he meant, and he told me that he'd been walking on a catwalk at the ship's edge, just below flight deck level when we were hit, and he'd been knocked flat. He said he'd crawled aft and looked down into mount #14 and seen me and Sgt. Wooten there. Then he said he'd seen me take the telephone cable in my hands and he'd thought, "That poor, skinny little son of a bitch can't break that cable." (I probably weighed about 110 pounds at the time.) But then, he said, "You snapped it like it was a piece of spaghetti." He said that about 3 seconds after Wooten and I had left the mount, the belly tank of a plane broke loose, rolled off the flight deck and into mount #14 and exploded.
I made my way aft along a catwalk that ran about 4 feet below the flight deck on the port side of the ship until I came to the end of it. There had been some nets on the catwalk, which were meant to be thrown over and used to climb down to the water, but they had all burned. I went through a hatch that led to a catwalk under the flight deck and looked for a line to go down into the water, but there wasn't one. I came back onto the outside catwalk and sat down on it with my back to the bulkhead and some of us started talking about jumping off the ship. Sgt. Wooten told us not to jump. "There's lots of planes and junk and guys and bodies in the water and if you jump you'll hit something and be killed. You might hit somebody and kill him and you both." So we agreed that we wouldn't jump the 85 feet to the water.
I leaned back against the bulkhead, knowing for sure that I was going to die and said what I fully believed would be my final prayers. I'm very happy and proud to say that I didn't pray for deliverance for myself. Instead, I prayed that my parents would be able to handle the news of the death of their only child and not be too overcome by grief. Once I'd finished my prayers---and finding myself still among the living---I went through the hatch that I'd gone through before in search of a line leading down to the water and looked again, and this time there was a line hanging there, though I have no idea where it came from. I should mention that the catwalk under the flight deck led to a 20mm ready-service ammunition magazine.
There were two sailors on the catwalk, and I asked them if they were going to go down the line. Neither of them had a life jacket on, and they pointed out that fact and said they were trying to decide whether to go down the line or not. That was the first time that I'd thought about a life jacket since Sgt. Wooten had made me put mine on. I told them that I had a jacket and that I wanted to get on the line. They stepped aside, and I had just climbed out onto the line and begun trying to get it between my feet so I wouldn't rope-burn my hands sliding down it, when the 20mm ammunition magazine exploded behind me, blowing me and the line away from the ship. It felt like a mule had kicked me in the middle of my back with both of his hind hooves.
As I fell, I remembered that I had my steel helmet on and that I shouldn't go into the water feet first with it strapped under my chin, so I managed to turn myself head down before I hit the water. I later learned that they had picked up over 200 bodies of men with broken necks caused by going into the water feet first with their helmets strapped under their chins. I put my left arm over my head to fend off any debris I might contact when I entered the water and, oddly enough, the last thought that crossed my mind before I hit the water was, "I'm going to ruin my wristwatch." (The watch had been my high school graduation present from my parents. And, sure enough, I did ruin it---and I still have it, stopped at 10:20 a.m.,19 March 1945 ELD.)
When I came back to the surface, happily much more quickly than I'd expected, my life jacket floated open because I hadn't tied the ties, and salt water, dye-marker, oil, fuel and God knows what else kept splashing into my face. I threw up a couple of times, but finally, I managed to get the ties tied, and then began swimming away from the ship. I looked back at the ship and remember thinking that it looked like a wounded bull stampeding in a panic, and I expected the whole ship to explode at any minute. Planes were exploding on the flight deck. I watched fascinated as a three-bladed propeller from one of them skipped across the surface of the water and the rockets they were loaded with were taking off wildly and their bombs exploding.
But one sight that I remember every time I hear the words, "The rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there" from our National Anthem was the sight of the ship's flag, blackened and torn, still flying from the highest mast, and I can't keep the tears from coming to my eyes when I hear those words.
I swam around looking for a life raft to get on, but I'd float to the top of a wave crest---we had about a 6-foot swell that morning---spin around, and lose my direction. Every raft I saw had more guys on it than it was designed to hold, so I kept swimming and looking. Finally, I got to where I couldn't see anybody or anything anywhere around me, and I felt like I was totally alone in that vast Pacific Ocean. Then I looked up and saw a plane diving toward me, and I thought, "That God-damned Jap is going to strafe one person afloat in this whole God-damned ocean, me!" I tried to get under the water, hoping it would stop his bullets, but popped right back up, of course, because of my life jacket When I looked, he was pulling away from me and turning to make another pass. Then I realized that it was one of our planes, an F6F Hellcat, and as he flew past me, about 20 feet off the water, the pilot pointed with his hand straight ahead. I gathered that he was trying to guide me to a life raft, so I began swimming in that direction. He kept buzzing me and pointing since I kept getting turned around, and I finally saw an empty raft ahead of me. He kept buzzing me until I reached the raft, then he waggled his wings and flew away. I probably owe my life to whoever that pilot was.
The raft, a roughly 4 x 8 foot rectangle of 8- to 10-inch balsa wood wrapped in some sort of material with latticework lashed into it as its bottom, had been blown off the ship and scorched pretty badly, and when I pulled myself into it, the partially burned lines holding the bottom in broke loose and the latticework began to sink. I knew that it had food, water, oars, and other paraphernalia attached to it, so I tried to save it, but it sank out of sight.
During the next hour or so, I pulled another Marine and two sailors onto the raft with me. Sometime later, I saw two pilots in the water. The "Mae West" life jacket of one had inflated, but the other pilot's hadn't, so the first pilot was keeping the other pilot afloat. I swam out to them to help bring them to the raft, and when I got to them, I said, "Can I help you, sir?" The pilot who was being held with his head barely out of the water looked at me out of the corner of his eyes and said, "Sir, hell! We're all the same rank, now, buddy."
I helped them get to the raft, and we floated along hoping that we would be spotted by one of our ships and rescued. At one point, we burst into song, singing, "Oh, give me land, lots of land . . . " I suppose we were hoping to attract the attention of one of our ships. It was so cold that I would sit on the edge of the raft and shiver and then decide that it was warmer in the water, so I'd get back into the water and hang onto the raft, and others were doing the same thing. After a very few minute of being in the water, though, I'd decide that it was actually warmer on the raft, so I'd pull myself back onto it. Finally, one of the pilots suggested that we stay on the raft, as we might get so weak that we couldn't get back on it and not be able to hang on.
After five hours, we finally saw a destroyer headed our way and we began yelling and singing "our song" to attract their attention. They saw us and a sailor threw a line to us from the bow of the destroyer, the USS Hunt DD 674. He missed us, and ran aft along the deck as he pulled the line back in, then he threw it and missed us again. Finally, the captain came on his bullhorn and told us that if we didn't catch the line the next time, he'd have to get underway. This time, the line came down between the other Marine and me, and we grabbed it. It began pulling us off the raft, and the thought that ran through my mind was that that line was attached to safety and that I'd be left to die if I let it go.
The other Marine---his name was Andy Trauss, I learned many years later---and I were pulled up to the back end of the destroyer, and Trauss clambered over me and up onto the fantail. But every time the destroyer rose out of the water, the line would slide through my hands. I still had on the "flash-hiding" cotton gloves we were issued on the 40mm mounts and they were slick from their wetness. I knew I was getting near the end of the line, so the next time the destroyer sank down into the water, I got as much of the line behind me as I could and then held on for dear life as it raised back up again. When it did raise up, my head was even with the "bumper" along the after end, port side, of the ship, and a Sailor laid down on it, wrapped his arm around my neck, and pressed my head up against the bumper. He looked down into my face and asked, "Am I hurting you, buddy?" And I said, "Yeah, but please don't let me go!"
He assured me that he wouldn't let me go and by that time another sailor had gotten onto the bumper and was helping the first one pull me up onto the fantail. I've always assumed that they managed to rescue the other four who were on my raft, but I don't know for a fact that they did. I fervently hope they did!
I had taken a few minor hits from small pieces of shrapnel, and when the sailors on the fantail saw the blood on me they asked me if I needed to go to their sick bay. I'd overheard enough at that point to know that the ship's two doctors had their hands more than full with guys who had life-threatening wounds---that destroyer, with a ship's complement of 375 men, picked up 400 survivors---so I told them all I needed was a little "monkey blood," gauze and tape. They cut my clothes off of me since my dungarees were stiff and cold from the icy sea water, then they took me down and put me in a bunk. As they were cutting my dungarees off, somebody said, "Look!" We all looked where he was pointing and could see a mountain. Japan was right there!
I lay under the blankets shivering for a long time, and then was finally able to get out of the bunk. A Sailor gave me some dungarees and sneakers to put on and after awhile we were told that we'd be fed in the mess. I got in line on the deck, and a sailor came around with a clipboard asking each of us for our name. I didn't know what he was doing, so when he asked me what my name was, I just told him, "DuBose." Unbeknownst to me, he wrote down "Seaman First Class DuBose," since I was wearing a Sailor"s dungarees.
What the sailor was doing was making a list of the Franklin's survivors on board, and when that list was sent to the Franklin, there was a Sfc DuBose, but no Pfc. DuBose listed amongst the survivors. And that sent a MIA message to my parents.
A week later, the Hunt arrived back in Ulithi, in the Caroline Islands, where the Franklin had joined Task Force 58, and I was transferred from it to a Receiving Ship. The Franklin was also back at Ulithi, and of course, all of us survivors were anxious to get back aboard it. Then we heard that anyone who'd abandoned ship without a direct order from the Captain to do so would be court martial'ed. That sent a chill up our spines, even though we'd been in a position on the ship were no orders from the Captain could have been received. What sent another chill up our spines was when we discovered that the "Receiving Ship" was actually an Attack Transport, loaded with FMF (infantry) Marines who were headed to make the landings on Okinawa. The next day after we got on the transport, one of their officers told us Franklin Marines that it was okay, he'd see to it that we'd be issued everything we needed to make the landing with his Marines. Well, that didn't appeal to us at all! We were also told, by a Marine Major, a pilot from the Franklin, that that ship was going to drop him and the survivors in his air group off at Guam before going on to Okinawa and that, if worse came to worst, he could take us with him. We pointed out to him that nobody would know what had happened to us, and he said, "They'll find out sooner or later, and at least you won't be wading ashore on Okinawa." Around midnight of the second night we were on the transport, we went up to the Captain and asked him when he would be setting sail from Ulithi. He told us he couldn't tell us that, but that if we weren't off of his ship by 0630, we'd go where he was going---right back where we'd come from! We asked the Captain if he couldn't let the Franklin know that he had us on board, but he said there was radio silence, and he certainly couldn't flash a signal to them in the dark.
At about 0330, six of us Marines were sitting on bunks six decks down in the transport, smoking Salvation Army-supplied cigarettes and worrying about what was going to happen to us. All of a sudden, the squawk-box came on with somebody saying, "The following named men will report topside for transfer to the Franklin."And then he started reading a list of names. Well, none of us wanted to hear our name called! We clambered up the ladders, across the deck and down into the LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) that was tied up there. It took us to the Franklin, and we were greatly relieved to be "home." (A higher authority took pains to see that our ship's captain did not court martial anyone who had abandoned ship.)
When I saw Major Eliot for the first time after returning to the ship, he noticed my healing wounds and asked me if I'd gone to sick bay on the destroyer that had picked me up. I told him I hadn't since they were overloaded with seriously wounded people, and he said that it would take some paper work, but that he would see to it that I got a Purple Heart. There were so many men who had been wounded and were going to receive the Purple Heart that there weren't enough of the medals to go around, he said, so they'd have to wait until we got back stateside for the presentations. Meanwhile, he told me that he'd received a message that I'd been awarded a Principal Appointment to Annapolis for the following school year and was to be returned to the states by 'FAGTRANS' (Fastest Available Government Transportation) and that the fastest way for me to get to the states would be to stay aboard the Franklin. That was okay by me. (I didn't know that we'd be assigned two 6-hour work details and two 4-hour gun watches every day!)
When we got to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, though, I was transferred immediately to the Naval Academy Prep School at Camp Peary, VA, so I missed the awarding of all the medals aboard the Franklin. When I got to Camp Peary's NAPS, I discovered that classes were over and that I had six days to study for the Entrance Examination for the Academy. The exam consisted of one three-hour exam each morning and afternoon for three days. They gave me six textbooks, and I did what reading I could during those six days. Of course, I flunked the exam miserably.
Once the exam was over and the NAPS closed its doors, I was sent over to a Marine guard detachment, which was guarding Navy and Marine prisoners who had been court martialed and sent to the brig for thirteen months or less. After a couple of weeks there, my CO called me into his office and told me that Texas (my home state) Congressman Milton West, who had awarded me the appointment to Annapolis, wanted to see me in his office in Washington. I went up there, and the Congressman asked me how come I'd busted the exam so badly. I told him I'd only had six days to study for it, and he asked me where I'd been when I got the appointment. I told him I'd been on the Franklin. The word about the Franklin's action hadn't been publicly released at that point, but he knew about it, and when he heard that I'd been on it, he told his secretary to cancel his next two appointments, because he was taking me to lunch. At lunch, he wanted to hear all about my experiences, and I told him what had happened. After we got back to his office, he told me that he could understand that there was no way I could have passed the exam under those circumstances, so if I wanted it, he'd give me the appointment to Annapolis for the next year. I jumped at the chance, of course, since I knew the invasion of the Japanese mainland was coming up, and I wanted no part of that! The appointment would keep me stateside for at least a year, I figured, and by then maybe the war would be over.
A couple of weeks later, I received a package of documents from the Navy Department relating to the appointment, and among them was one that said that I had three choices: I could stay in the Marine Corps and go to Prep School at government expense; I could get a discharge from the Marine Corps, join the Navy, and go to Prep School at government expense or I could get a discharge from the Marine Corps and go to Prep School at my own expense. I figured that getting out of the Marines altogether would probably keep me 'out of harm's way' for maybe as long as two years, by which time the war would surely be over, so I went to my Camp Peary CO and showed him what the document said. He told me that that was all pre-war stuff and didn't apply now, but I begged him to at least try to get me a discharge. About three weeks later, I met him on the boardwalk, saluted him, and then he said, as he returned my salute and walked past me, 'Your discharge will be through in a couple of weeks, DuBose.' What a relief! But, much to the surprise of all of us, the war came to an end the next week after the dropping of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I was one of the first to be discharged into peacetime. Once I was home and was absolutely sure that the war was, indeed, over, I resigned my appointment to Annapolis and returned to college under the GI Bill. I'd had a bellyful of the military.
For years I tried to find out if the Franklin survivors were having reunions, but since I wasn't a member of the American Legion or VFW or any of those organizations, I never saw any notices that they were having reunions. Then, one day in 1995, I was getting ready to play golf with a member of my golf club named Don McCarthy, whom I'd played with many times before, and he said, 'I was playing with Dick Durning the other day, DuBose, and he told me that you'd told him that you were on the Franklin. I said that was right, and he said, 'I was on the bridge of a destroyer 1100 yards off of your port bow when you got hit.' I was amazed, but even more amazed when he said, 'Are you going to the Franklin reunion?' 'Of course', I said, 'For God's sake! What reunion?' He gave me the name of a guy to get in touch with, and I called him. I got the details on the reunion, and within a week or so started getting phone calls from old Marine Detachment buddies. One of them asked me if I'd ever gotten my Purple Heart and I told him, no, that I'd given up on that long ago and forgotten all about it. He told me that one of our group had gotten his just within the past year, so I called that guy and got information about where to write to see if I could still get my own Purple Heart.
I managed to convince that person that I was qualified for the medal and told him that, if it was possible, I'd like to have it presented to me at the 50th-anniversary reunion. He told me that would be just fine and sent the medal to me. After the officer mentioned above told me that he couldn't make the presentation, I called the buddy who had led me to try once more for the medal and told him that I'd like to have it presented to me at the reunion. Instead, he arranged for a bus to take all of us Marines from Charleston down to Parris Island, where most of us had gone through boot camp, and have the medal presented to me on the parade ground there, 50 years to the day after I'd earned it.
When the NAPS closed at Camp Peary, I was transferred to the Marine guard detachment, as I mentioned above. When I got there, the rest of the guys were all FMF Marines with combat experience, and when they saw my Sea-going patch, they treated me like dirt. They wouldn't speak to me or have anything to do with me, except that one Jewish boy, who I guess recognized that I was getting the same lousy treatment that Jews often got, at least gave me directions to the mess hall.
A week or two later---and the ostracism had continued all that time---I came off my guard post and walked into the barracks. There was a Marine standing with his back to the door, bending over a table with a newspaper spread out on it, and when he saw me, he put the paper behind him and said, 'What ship did you say you were on, DuBose?' I told him the Franklin, and he sneaked a look at the newspaper and then asked, 'Were you on it on March 19?' I told him I was and then I noticed that all the other guys were listening to our conversation very carefully. 'Well'. the Marine said, 'you might want to take a look at this' and handed me a copy of the New York Times. The news about the Franklin had finally been released to the newspapers, and the whole story, with scads of pictures, was there.
'Want a drink, DuBose?' one of the other Marines asked me, pulling a bottle of whiskey out of the back of his locker. I said I'd like one, and he handed me the bottle. I took a drink and then lit into them. 'You bastards!' I said. 'When you saw my Seagoing patch you figured all that ever happened to me was that I had three hot meals every day and a warm, dry bunk to sleep in every night, didn't you?' They all nodded their heads and I said, 'Well, let me tell you. You bastards could retreat until you found cover. The most I could retreat was 900 feet, and then all I had was a million square miles of ocean to take cover in. We get killed, too, you know.' They all laughed, and from that point on, we all got along very well. The sneering attitude that FMF Marines had toward sea-going Marines still rankled me, though, since 22 of the 78 Marines in my detachment had been killed and at least that number seriously wounded. (The total Franklin casualties: 923 killed.)
When I finally got home on leave that summer, my parents told me that they had had a really bad couple of weeks after receiving the MIA telegram, feeling pretty hopeless that I could still be alive. After all, when you're on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and go MIA it's pretty hard to figure where you could be, alive, that they can't find you! My mother asked me if I knew what time of day it would have been in my hometown when we were hit off the coast of Japan. I'd figured that out already, and I told her that it would have been a little after 3 pm on Sunday, March 18. She got a calendar off the bedroom wall, turned the pages back to March and showed me where she'd written, 'Ask LaRocque if anything special happened on this date', March 18. She told me that on that day, she and my father had gone to church, then out to lunch with friends and then had gone home and taken a nap. She said she woke up from her nap and shook my father awake, saying, 'LaRocque is at the back door. Go let him in.' My father reminded her that I was somewhere in the Pacific, but my mother said, 'I heard him rattling the screen door and calling out, 'Mom! Dad! Let me in!' Then she looked at the clock and saw that it was just past 3 o'clock. My father, who was the son of a Baptist preacher, said, 'Maybe we ought to pray for him.' They'd gotten out of bed, knelt beside it and prayed that I would be safe in God's hands. I've always wondered whether my life was spared because of my prayer for them or theirs for me. Probably both, I would guess.
A few days later, they got the telegram from the Navy Department, 'We regret to inform you that your son, Pfc. LaRocque R. DuBose, USMC, has been reported missing in action. . . .'
Their happy day came on the second Sunday in April. Mom told me that they were in church and heard the door open behind them. They looked around to see who it was, and a girl named Martha Peters, whom I had dated several times when I was in high school and who was one of the Western Union operators, came walking down the aisle with a yellow Western Union envelope in her hand and tears streaming down her cheeks. My mother said she thought, 'Oh, my God! She's got another telegram,' thinking that someone else was about to be told of a KIA or MIA. (And there had been plenty of both in that small town of 3400 people.) The preacher was in the middle of his sermon, but stopped when he saw Martha coming down the aisle. She walked up to the pulpit and whispered in the preacher's ear. He looked at her and then he pointed out Mom and Dad, sitting at the aisle end of a pew and she came back down the aisle to them. She knelt down by them, handed them the envelope, and said, 'LaRocque is okay. They've found him, and he's okay.' Mom burst into tears, and Dad took the envelope, opened it, and read what it had to say. Word of what was going on spread through the small congregation quickly, and there were lots of 'Hallelujahs!' and 'Praise the Lords' and 'Thank Gods'. The preacher finally quieted everyone down and said, 'I think we'll end this service right here by singing the hymn, 'Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.' That they did and Mom and Dad spent most of the rest of the day shaking hands with people and being told how happy they were for them. Of course, everyone wanted to know details, but my parents had no idea why I'd been listed as MIA to start with.
(The first news report regarding the Franklin didn't mention the ship's name, but simply said, 'A carrier task force has been launching strikes against the Japanese mainland for the past two days. One large unit of the fleet has been hit, but is making its way to port under its own power.' Doesn't sound all that serious, does it? Surely wouldn't make you think that more than 900 men on that ship had been killed, would it? Such was our war time news!)
My escape from death actually began at Camp LeJeune in late November 1944. They'd asked for volunteers to go to Sea School, and they'd gotten 3 times as many as they needed, including me. A buddy and fellow Texan with whom I'd gone through Boot Camp was the Company Driver and he told he he'd gone into the Company Office and seen a corporal sitting at a table stacked with record books. He was tossing one record book onto one table and two onto another table. Frank asked him what he was doing, and he said he was "selecting" the ones to go to Sea School. Frank saw my book on the "Don't Go" table, so he picked it up and tossed it onto the "Go" table, saying that I was a friend of his and he wanted me to get to go to Sea School. The Corporal said it didn't make any difference to him, so that's how I got "selected" for Sea School. The 58 other guys in my outfit who didn't go to Sea School later formed the 32nd Replacement Draft, and I learned after the war that only 2 of them survived Iwo Jima, where I'd have gone if it hadn't been for my friend.
The day we were hit, if the corporal hadn't known that I had the 4-8 watch and sent me back to my mount, I'd have stayed in the Marine Compartment and, undoubtedly, crapped out on my bunk, which was smashed when a piece of hangar deck was blown down into the compartment killing all but 3 guys.
If Mount #12 hadn't, we'd have been manning it when it was demolished by the first bomb that hit is.
If Sergeant Wooten had not made me put on my life jacket I would probably have wound up drowning or being killed if I'd stayed on the ship.
If the "other" second loader hadn't jumped ahead of me when the guy who always relieved me came on the mount, I'd have been in the chow line, where everyone was killed.
If I hadn't been able to break the telephone cable that was hindering Wooten's and my escape from the mount, we'd have both been killed by the exploding belly tank that fell into it from the flight deck. The odd thing is that, though I'm sure adrenalin was pumping madly through my body, I think that it was a mental thing that helped me break it; it never occurred to me that I might not be able to break that cable when I grabbed hold of it.
I have no idea where the line came from that I found on my second venture under the flight deck, but I've always called it, "God's Rope."
If the pilot hadn't spotted me and guided me to an empty raft, I'm pretty sure that I'd have wound up drowning or meeting some other fatal end.
If the USS Hunt hadn't spotted our raft, we might very well have drifted ashore in Japan, since we were in what the pilots said was a 3-knot current flowing into the Japanese Inland Sea. And we can guess what would have happened to a couple of Marines taken prisoner.
So, realized, later, that God had been watching over me. When people tell me that I can't prove that God exists, I say, "The hell I can't!"
Semper Fi---and that really does apply to me!